\"Be very afraid", warns China mission

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Oxford brookes university Nutrition China

\"Be very afraid", warns China mission
It is difficult to see a long-term future for ambient food manufacturers in the UK, unless they significantly up their game in order to compete with...

It is difficult to see a long-term future for ambient food manufacturers in the UK, unless they significantly up their game in order to compete with firms from the Far East, delegates returning from a trade mission to China have warned.

Speaking at a conference to report back the findings from a government-backed visit to China late last year, Natural Fruit and Beverage Company director Iain Martin said: “Food production staff in China earn $500 a year and engineers earn around $1,200, while transport and utility costs in China are a fraction of what we pay here. It’s very difficult to see how western manufacturers can compete with that.”

However, the competitive threat was not purely based on lower costs, he stressed, pointing out that wages in China would in any case eventually catch up with those in Europe and the US.

“The point is that China is moving away from low cost manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy and closing the research and development (R&D) gap.”

Indeed, the perception of China as a producer of high volume, but low-tech goods was completely outdated, he added, with R&D spending approaching $100bn a year and more than 60 universities specialising in food science and nutrition, compared to 18 in the UK.

In Chengdu alone - “a mid-ranking Chinese city” - there were 33 universities churning out 80,000 graduates a year, of which 45,000 were in science and technology, he said.

“Chinese firms are increasingly moving into value-added product areas. China is perfectly able to produce goods of equivalent or better quality than we are. It’s a bit scary when you look at it from a western manufacturing perspective.”

He added: “I wonder what will be manufactured in the UK in 20 years’ time apart from perishable goods? My message is be afraid, be very afraid.”

Jeya Henry, professor of human nutrition at Oxford Brookes University, who was also on the mission, said: “In the China Agricultural University’s college of food science and nutritional engineering in Beijing, there are 1,000 BSc students, 325 MSc students and121 PhD students. The numbers are absolutely staggering.”

Mission leader Bob Marsh, md of the Food Processing Knowledge Transfer Network, said: “China’s food industry is developing at an astonishing rate and cannot be ignored by the West.”

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